Cultural Commentator

The Twin Absurdities of R.A. Dickey And The Fiscal Cliff

Cultural Commentator

The Twin Absurdities of R.A. Dickey And The Fiscal Cliff

Even when the negotiations began, we knew they were just for show. These talks aren’t about getting results—they’re about posturing. Pleasing the base. Flexing muscles. Rattling the saber. Measuring dicks. Since then, talks have been utterly stalled, but both sides keep releasing leaks and press releases trumpeting progress, in a transparent attempt to make the other side look more petty, more greedy, more vain. It’s an ego contest, plain and simple. And when the stakes are this high, that’s the kind of contest no one can win.

Am I talking about the fiscal cliff or the New York Mets? I have no idea.

Since the election, endless chatter has been wasted on the dreary piece of political theater known as The Fiscal Cliff. Everyone who’s forcing themselves to pay attention agrees on two things. First, no one involved is taking these negotiations seriously. Second, it doesn’t matter. No matter how screwed up Washington is, they wouldn’t let the nation fall victim to the self-imposed calamity of massive spending cuts.

Right? Well, we hope so, anyway.

The baseball season ended a week before the election. Since then, the story has been R.A. Dickey. The Cy Young winner, author, documentary subject, conqueror of Kilimanjaro and all-round king of the nerds is at a contractual crossroads, and the team where he found his pitch has a few options. The Mets can re-sign him through 2015; they can trade him, or they can sit on his contract for another year and, at season’s end, see him walk away for nothing.

Fans would be happy with either of the first two options. Either they get three more seasons of the inimitable weirdness that is R.A., or they get a few useful young players who will help the team down the road. Win now, win later—either way works for us. And the third option, the doomsday scenario, isn’t worth worrying about. No matter how screwed up the Mets ownership is, they wouldn’t let the team fall victim to that self-imposed calamity.

Right? Uh, right?

Those who prefer Beltway gamesmanship to the ballpark kind may be surprised to learn that the Mets ownership group, headed by father-and-son moronic duo Fred and Jeff Wilpon, operates at a level of functionality that rivals Washington’s. Yesterday was the four-year anniversary of Bernie Madoff’s arrest, a collapse that heralded that of the New York Mets. The Wilpons had hundreds of millions invested in Madoff’s scheme, and had kept the team successful by relying on Madoff’s magical, impossible 10% annual return. Since then, they have floundered, slashing payroll and releasing star players while attempting to maintain a facade of being big-time.

That’s where the Dickey negotiations come in. For the last month, the Wilpons have played chicken, lowballing one of baseball’s great pitchers in hopes that, if he refuses their offer, they can paint him as just another greedy athlete. This is standard practice, but this morning the Wilpons took scumminess to new depths, using a leak to attack Dickey for being frank with the press at yesterday’s charity holiday event. The scapegoating begins:

The Mets, meanwhile, have mounting concerns whether all of Dickey’s off-the-field endeavors could impact his on-field results or his standing in the clubhouse if the perception is that he has become too absorbed with his new celebrity.

With other players, “off-the-field” endeavors would be code for drug-snorting, model-schtupping, or gift bag-giving. Dickey’s raucous off-season behavior includes not drinking alcohol, speaking out against sexual abuse, and climbing mountains to fight human trafficking. For the next three years, he is asking $31 million—a handsome sum, yes, but reasonable compared to other top-flight pitchers. No matter how vicious the Wilpons get, they cannot make him into a monster.

If the Metsian doomsday scenario does come to pass, and Dickey walks next year for nothing, it will be another of the sort of crushing disappointments that Madoff-era Met fans have gotten used to. What few realize is that the stalled negotiations in Flushing are much more critical than those in Washington. No matter how Congress deals with the fiscal cliff, D.C. stays a swamp. But if the Mets back off the Dickey cliff, the team will stay losers well past the end of Obama’s second term.